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2 Suspended for School Prank That Scared Pupils in Tennessee

Published: May 15, 2007

MURFREESBORO, Tenn., May 14 — A teacher and an assistant principal were suspended Monday for a prank in which sixth graders on a sleepover trip were told that a gunman was prowling nearby and were ordered to hide in silence.

School officials in this small city, about 35 miles south of Nashville, took the action against the teacher, Quentin Mastin, and the assistant principal, Don Bartch, because of the incident Thursday during a trip by a group of Scales Elementary School pupils to secluded Fall Creek Falls State Park, a school spokeswoman, Cheryl Harris, said.

“It was a spontaneous prank that got out of hand,” Ms. Harris said.

The leaders usually pull a prank on the students during the weeklong trip, typically a spine-chilling ghost story, and the 69 children had been told to expect one this year, she said.

But on the trip’s last night, Mr. Mastin told the children that a park ranger had warned that there was a gunman roving the park, and that they should take cover.

While the children hid under tables in a dormitory, a chaperone pulled a hood up over her head and rattled the door from the outside. Some children wept in fear in the dark, parents have said in news accounts.

“At first I thought I was going to die,” a student, Shay Naylor, 11, told The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville. “A teacher told us, ‘We just got a call that there’s been a random shooting.’ I was freaked out. I thought it was serious.”

Afterward, the adult leaders turned the lights on and admitted it was a prank, praising the students for following what are called “code red” emergency school procedures. Ms. Harris said the choice of prank was unfortunate, particularly given the recent shootings at Virginia Tech University, in which 32 students and teachers were killed.

“I don’t think this person, this lead teacher, was even associating what he was doing with that, unfortunately,” Ms. Harris said.

Some parents, who gave their consent for the trip but were not told of the prank beforehand, were not amused to learn about it. More than 40 parents attended a meeting with the principal on Saturday, and some parents have reported that the incident terrified their children.

Jessica Giles, an assistant professor of psychology at the Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University, said such an incident could create lasting anxiety, and lead students to doubt their teachers in a real emergency.



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